Try and visualize an Indian dessert without the flavour of cardamom! Some of them work but mostly not. Try a bowl of kheer without cardamom (elaichi). Simply a boring medley of milk, rice and sugar! It is the gentle coaxing of the cardamom powder that transforms a simple pudding into a feast fit for the Gods. Next, look at the famous Indian mix of spices called garam masala. Without cardamoms it would be ‘thanda’ masala – nothing worth writing home about! Cardamom is the third most expensive spice of the world after saffron and vanilla.
Black cardamom has a pleasant aromatic odour inspite of having looks that are deceiving. Large black cardamoms are used for flavouring various vegetable and meat preparations in Indian dishes. They are also effective flavouring agents in confectionery, hot or sweet pickles and in beverages. The green cardamom is the ‘queen’ of Indian spices and ranks as the second most important national spice! Extensively used in medicine as a powerful aromatic aid, a mixture of its powdered seeds with ground ginger, cloves and caraway is helpful in combating digestive ailments. Cardamom seeds can be chewed to prevent bad breath, indigestion, nausea and vomiting. Powdered seeds of cardamom boiled with tea water impart a very pleasant aroma to tea.
It is known that the world’s best cardamom comes from Kerala. The pods are fat, green and full of seeds. Anyone with green fingers would love to know that cardamom plants are naturally grown in a swampy land or by the side of streams. They grow best in the shade of the natural canopy formed by the dense forest. As the trees shed their foliage, it becomes organic manure for the cardamom tree. The first harvest is received after three to four years of plantation and it goes on till fifteen to twenty years. Fruits are separated from the harvested panicles for drying and curing. Three days of continuous smoking from a wood kiln is required for proper curing or drying.
Cardamom seeds lose their flavour quickly when ground; even if left whole, the seeds show a loss of about 40% of the essential oil per year. Therefore, only whole cardamom pods should be bought. Perfect way to release the good oils is to crush the seeds in a mortar with pestle and add it to the dish immediately. Use the pod covering as a flavourant in your masala chai!
What could you do with elaichi then? Try out our suggestions!